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Adventures in Faith

HUMAN NATURE!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

I’m old enough to remember preachers buying bed sheets and drawing charts to illustrate their sermon.  They were called “rag charts.”  Human nature being what it is, when the first rag chart appeared, someone probably stated, “It’s a sin to waste a good bed sheet to substitute for a preacher’s inability to paint a picture with words!”

In 1960 I worked with a north Mississippi congregation.  The Jule Miller film strips were the latest innovation in personal work.  Using that equipment, we had several to respond to the gospel.  I was given permission to show the films on consecutive Wednesday nights to make the church aware of this new tool.  The first one in the series was “The Patriarchal Age.”  After viewing, the membership was excited and looked forward to the next subject, “the Mosaic Age.”  However, on Thursday morning one of the elders informed me that the series was cancelled.  An elder objected to a continuance because he thought the projector was an instrument in the worship!  This cancellation surprised me.  In discussing it with him, I pointed out that the projector was not a mechanical instrument of music but equal to the ceiling lights being cooled with a fan.  He failed to see the difference.  The church never saw the other four!  The elder misunderstood several things and his viewpoint was affected by his misconception of worship.  Human nature’s negative side had kicked in.

Jesus often included “show and tell” objects in his lessons to assist the understanding of his audiences.  He used birds (Matthew 8:20; 13:30), the Temple (Matthew 24), sheep (Matthew 10:16; 12:12; 15:24), flowers (Matthew 6:28), and a fig tree (Matthew 21:19-21).  Yes, he could have spoken his lessons without these illustrations, but he used what people were familiar with to teach his lessons.  One objection did come from the apostles asking him “why” concerning the fig tree (v.20).  Human nature missed the point Jesus was making!  Human beings sometimes get things crossed up because we think our conclusions are biblical, but not those of others.  I too am susceptible to that condition!  We all are if we will admit it.

A well-to-do family planned a wedding for their daughter at the church building.  The father wanted to use a piano for the wedding march.  The elders refused to allow it because they thought it would be a mechanical instrument of music in the worship.  Yet, they did not believe a wedding was “worship.”  Also, the “march” being played was not accompanied with congregational singing.  Not wishing to alienate a good contributor, nor be guilty of offending their conscience, a compromise was reached.  A flatbed trailer was parked next to the auditorium sporting a rented piano.  The windows on that side of the building were opened so the wedding march could be heard by those inside!  Imagine the bewilderment of the towns people when they learned that the piano’s sound was scriptural originating outside the auditorium, but sinful if it had been produced coming from the inside!?  Consistency isn’t always consistent!  Human nature sometimes takes precedent over biblical truth!

In some conservative circles, an introduction of a “new” action is often viewed as the launching of the unscriptural!  The synagogue practice originated from the Babylonian exiles, rather than being introduced by God.  Yet, Jesus did not come unglued over its origin or practice (Matthew 12:9).  The original bread used in the Lord’s supper was an unleavened “loaf (the meaning of the Greek word artos),” but today’s crowd doesn’t refuse to partake because we have substituted a small piece of cracker!  Today’s way of doing things would probably be unfamiliar to a first century crowd.  Would their human nature see those differences as a departure from God’s word?  Probably.  Today some refuse to practice things found in the first century church, because “we’ve never done it that way”!  Some even object to those biblical practices!

Over the years new concepts arise, but not without conflict!  However, this condition is not limited to a specific age group, nor narrowed down to a designated church.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, pulpits were charging women with ungodliness because they wanted the right to vote!  Those women were accused of destroying the home, church, and society!  Some refused to partake when multiple communion cups were introduced in the early twentieth century.  These new introductions were thought to be “another gospel”!  These newbie introductions divided families.  Relationships were strained and broken!  Human nature presented Satan with one of his many victory!

Human nature can create false standards. A popular one is, “What we do is biblical because we’ve practiced it for the past five generations or more.”  Labeling something as “another gospel” is a favorite path traveled by some.  Human nature blinded the objectors to a truth they refused to observe, “What we practice as ‘tried and true’ today, was new for an earlier generation”!  Claiming something is biblical because this is what we’ve always done, doesn’t make it so.  Because something is new, doesn’t make it sinful.  The church I was introduced to in 1957 is not the church of 2018.  Human nature has led us to blindly follow the Corinthian division as “gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).  We merely substitute something else in the place “of Paul,” but arrive at the same results.

 Jesus dealt with human nature in his day.  That nature continues to plague each new generation!

THE LONELY EVANGELIST!

Monday, April 16, 2018

He had a fire burning within that would not allow him to remain silent.  Yet, he had questions that nagged at his faithfulness.  He cried out to Yahweh asking, “Why are evil people so successful?  Why do all dishonest people have such easy lives!?”  He even blamed God for this condition by saying, “Indeed, you have put such people here.”1

Usually, a God-fearing individual will pray for God’s children to repent, but he claimed that Yahweh told him, “Don’t pray for good things to happen to this people of Judah!  Even though they fast, I will not listen to their prayers.  Even though they offer whole burnt-offerings and food offerings to Me, I will not accept them.” 2

In Jeremiah 15:15-18 the prophet cries out to Yahweh, “Remember me and take care of me.” Jeremiah reminds God that his suffering is because he listened to Him and preached what the Lord told him to speak.  He reminds Yahweh that he didn’t fellowship with the crowd in their evil ways.  So, he laments, “I don’t understand why my pain has no end.  I don’t understand why my injury is not cured or healed!” (V. 18).  Yahweh’s reply is, “I am with you.  I will rescue you and deliver you.  I will deliver you from the power of these evil people.  I will redeem you from the clutches of these cruel people.”3

This promise to Jeremiah did not guarantee a trouble-free life, nor a bed of roses.  Jeremiah was not allowed to marry.  Therefore, he had no children.4 He preached for about fifty years to a nation that was immune to his message.  He was not killed, but he was never respected by the people.  He was popular in a negative way.  If he had erected a huge tent and advertised a city-wide revival, he would have preached to empty seats.  The ministerial association never invited him to join, nor did they appreciate his lessons.  He was known as the doom and gloom evangelists that no one was interested in.  As far as his family, neighbors, and others were concerned, our First Amendment rights would never be his!

Jeremiah endured beatings by the temple guards5 and was tortured 6.  He complained to God that he was “a joke” to those who made fun of and insulted him. 7 He thought about forgetting God and no longer speaking for Him. 8 He lamented, stating, “Why did I ever come out of mother’s body!?  All I have known is trouble and sorrow.  And, my life will end in shame!9

We are a blessed nation.  Have we ever asked “Why” that has been so?  One hundred years before Judah fell, Isaiah was warning where their sins were taking them.  Jeremiah preached it was going to happen in his lifetime.  Yet, Judah and Jerusalem blindly hurried into a future they refused to acknowledge.  Repentance would have saved them.  It wasn’t their nature.  Their preachers and statesmen promised peace, prosperity, and security.  They chose to fail at receiving all three!  They put their faith in Jerusalem and the Temple, rather than in Yahweh!

Nations today claim kinship to the Judah and Jerusalem of Jeremiah’s time.  We acclimate ourselves to the world and justify our comfort.  We shrug off the sins of our country.  Lying is an acceptable game where the most ridiculous ones are swallowed as truth by the gullible.  Breaking the law is ignored when committed by the powerful.  Wickedness is good if practiced by the left, but odious if questioned by the right.  Radicals are excused while Christians are labelled as “terrorist.”  Good is evil, and evil is good!

 If we are concerned, it is often lost in feelings of helplessness.  We ask the same questions as Jeremiah.  We share in his discouragement.  When our lives are ridiculed, we huddle in our worship halls and like the Jews under Nazism, think the horror will ultimately go away.  When it affects us, we ask the same “Why” that Jeremiah did!  Like sheep being led to the ovens of Auschwitz, we either believe God will not allow it or that He has forsaken us.  When doom and gloom envelop our country, like Hillary, we look outward to find blame.

We are a broken people and need to remind ourselves that only Jesus can put us together.  But, that togetherness does not mean houses, cars, salary, nor other things which this world offers.  A nation on its way from God cannot expect His blessing by showing Him our backside!

_____________________

1 Jeremiah 12:2

2 Jeremiah 14:11-12

3 Jeremiah 15:20-21

4 Jeremiah 16:2

5 Jeremiah 20:2

6 Jeremiah 20:2-3

7 Jeremiah 20:7

8 Jeremiah 20:9

9 Jeremiah 20:9-10

WHICH INTERPRETATION?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Whoever has been born of God does not sin, . . . and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9 NKJV, My Emphasis, RH).

What does that mean?  Aren’t we all sinners (Romans 3:10, 23; 1 John 1:8)?

First Interpretation

1 John 3:9 teaches that a Christian does not and cannot sin since he has been added to the saved.  He is “born of God.”  He never believes anything, does anything, thinks anything, or hints at doing anything that is offensive to God.  He lives a life without sin.  He never has a need to repent nor ask for forgiveness.  Why?  He is “born of God.”  The spirit or inner man does not sin (Romans 7:22).  It is the flesh that is guilty of committing the sin.  1 John 3:9 points out that the inner man can never sin because he is “born of God.”  God will endow him with His Spirit to keep his inner man in the body of the saved.

Second Interpretation

1 John 3:9 teaches that an individual may do all the right things to be recognized as a Christian.  He is present at every assembly.  He gives his tithe each week and adds a sizeable offering above and beyond that amount.  He engages in multiple good works.  He teaches one of the best Bible classes in the congregation and has the highest attendance of any.  He is a faithful husband and a great dad to his children.  He never loses his temper nor utters a profane word.  But, if he sins it proves he was never “born of God”!  He is not one of God’s elect.  Since he is not one of God’s elect, his sins prove he is not nor has he ever been “born of God”!  He remains in his sins!  Only the elect ones are added to the saved.  Only the elect ones have their sins erased.  The non-elect cannot be saved because they have not been chosen to receive that blessing.

Third Interpretation

1 John 3:9 teaches that a person may wonder how God can love him since he is not perfect.  He believes Jesus’ blood cleansed him of all his past sins, right up to the point that God added him to the saved.  Since then, the cleansing power of Jesus blood is only for those getting into his saved body of people.  When he sins, he loses his “saved” designation and is saddled with a “lost” epitaph.  He is no longer in the body of Christ.  He remains “lost” until he recognizes his need to repent, pray, and ask for forgiveness.  Once his “Amen” closes that prayer, God reinstates him with the “saved” designation and he is again a part of the “born of God.”  His problem is that he must not break any of the hundreds of known and unknown rules to remain in the body of Christ.  A tenth of a mile over the speed limit and the pearly gates are locked!  Any impure thought merits the boot!  Take a paper clip home from work that doesn’t belong to you and Bingo, lost again!  One minute late for Bible class, whoops!  Went to sleep before finishing his prayer.  Not valid!  He goes through life resigning himself to hell, but desperately hoping for heaven.  He wonders how he could be “born of God” because he is never free from sinning?  Perfection is his impossible goal.  If he comes up short, he hopes God will fill whatever gap remains.  That is his unstable hope!  His obedience becomes his payment to assist Jesus’ blood in purchasing his eternal salvation!  Perfection = “being born of God”!  His frequent new births get him back in, but there are no guarantees of permanence!  He prays for a prayer to fill his lips when death happens!

Fourth Interpretation

This group understands that John’s audience came out of idolatry.  John tells them that one will not continue in that lifestyle since he is “born of God.”  John is not preaching perfection (1 John 1:7-10).   Jesus is God’s perfect sin sacrifice!  Jesus paid it all!  All to him I owe!  We are to be like Jesus, but we will never be Jesus.  Christians sin.  Yet, our sins are covered by God’s grace and continually removed by Jesus’ blood.  God has added us to the saved.  The saved are the body of Jesus.  Since Jesus has no sins and one is added to his sinless body, our sins are removed by his blood.  God’s grace provides it!  Paul reiterates it in Romans 8:1 with “no condemnation.”  That’s why, being “in Christ” is good news!  We are dead to sin.  We are dead to that state of death (Romans 7:24-25-6:1-2).  Since we are a new creation and have received the righteousness of God, our reward is the divine life found in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17, 21; Romans 6:23)!  We are not in that number that draws back unto perdition, but those who believe to the saving of the soul (Hebrew 10:38-39).  You can put your trust in Jesus and shout with Paul, “Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4)!  “Cannot sin” is a state one remains in due to God’s grace continually cleansing our sins!  1 John 3:9 expresses that cleansing.

There may be other interpretations, but perhaps they will fit into one of the above.  A dying man once told me, “My faith is a good one to live by, but a poor one to die by.”  What about your faith?  Is it built on the bold assurance that produces an excitable joy because you are sure of your salvation?  It’s all according to one’s understanding of 1 John 3:9!

MISUNDERSTANDING CONTEXT

Monday, April 9, 2018

What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off (Matthew 18:12-13 NIV).

What is Jesus NOT saying in this passage?  Hundreds, if not thousands of lessons have been taught from this passage, but many of them may have missed the point being made.  If we venture outside the context, we will produce an entirely different story.  Several years ago, an elder chided me in a friendly way by saying, “Ray, my only objection is not your sermon, but your failure to give all five steps to the plan of salvation in your invitation.”  My reply was, “If you will show me where anyone in the New Testament was commanded to give that five-step invitation, I’ll follow it.”  He backed off because he knew he was binding upon me what God never ordered.  It is a tradition that originated in the nineteenth century.  He misunderstood the biblical context on the subject.

Looking at the passage above, one could focus upon the ninety-nine and miss Jesus’ point by stating one of the following paragraphs.

“Jesus left the ninety-nine to the wolves, wild dogs, and lions to search for one lamb that was dumb enough to wander away from the protection of the flock.  He thinks more of those who don’t obey his voice than the ninety-nine that do.”

“I can’t believe he would abandon the ninety-nine and search for one.  When he gets back, he’s going to have more than one sheep that has wandered off.  He’s going to spend a lot of time looking for a larger number.  Has he really been wise in leaving the majority to search for that one?”

A comedian told about his first introduction to the Bible.  He read about the crucifixion of Jesus in Matthew.  Then, he read Mark and found the same thing happening.  He bewilderingly asked, “Why did they crucify him twice?”  He misunderstood the context.

The eunuch was reading from the prophet Isaiah.  He did not understand whether the prophet was speaking of himself or someone else.  Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading.  He needed someone to put things in context for him.  Philip began at the same scripture and preached Jesus to him (Acts 8:26-35).

According to some reports, Christianity is divided into several thousand divisions.  The majority believe some of the basics alike.  However, each has one or more teachings that are peculiar to their faith.  That peculiarity sets them apart from all the other peculiarities being taught.  Those peculiarities are accepted as matters of faith which the holder refuses to surrender.  Some believe those peculiar doctrines put them closer to God than the opposite doctrines held by others.

When Gentiles began to “gladly receive his word” and “were baptized,” God added them to the same saved body of believers the Jews were in (Acts 2:41; 10:48).  Since their father Abraham had been circumcised in a covenant relationship with God, they believed this peculiar doctrine must be followed by incoming Gentile believers (Genesis 17:7-12; Acts 15:1, 6).  Yet, Jesus’ brother suggested that a small letter be sent to Gentiles releasing them from the law of Moses (Acts 15:13-20).  Circumcision was a “must” for a Jewish believer, but not required of a Gentile one.  It was not an essential in the New Testament covenant.  Jewish practices were not Gentile ones.  Yet, they needed to recognize what was important (Ephesians 2:6-22; Colossians 2:10-14; Galatians 5:1-4).  Those heart held beliefs and actions faded with time as the saved Gentile body of believers became the majority.  History shows that some Gentiles believers ridiculed those who continued holding to Jewish practices!  Both had a problem with context.

Jesus came to save the lost.  Who is lost?  Every sinner (Romans 3:10,23)!  That’s you and me!  We all need him as our Savior.  We aren’t good enough to save ourselves.  Our sin negate us from the title of “Savior.”  He died to pay my sin debt.  I can’t raise enough funds to pay it off myself.  Neither can you!  He made it possible for me, a broken individual, to be born again so I could have my past sins, my present ones, and my future sins forgiven.  He bestowed upon me his righteousness (1 Corinthians 5:21).  The story of the ninety-nine isn’t about me.  The one that was lost and found, is!  When a lost individual comes to Jesus, there is rejoicing in heaven (Luke 15:7).  The sound of that rejoicing will reverberate in your heart as you share in heaven’s joy!

If you have missed Jesus’ point, you’ve misunderstood the context!

PROHIBITED OR ALLOWED?

Thursday, April 5, 2018

According to Revelation 22:18-19 and 2 John 1:9, there are things allowed and prohibited by scripture.  The human standard, right or wrong states, “Silence is prohibitive” and “Be silent where the Bible is silent.”  Those specific expressions are absent from the scriptures and may either be misapplied, misunderstood, or be involved in the adding and subtracting problem!  The following are some expressions or actions not specified in scripture.  Yet, all are practiced by some.

  1. The expression “in the name of Jesus” or “in Jesus’ name” to open or close a prayer. Jesus said that his disciples could ask in his name but did not give an expression to use. We assume the above are what he meant.  If so, no inspired person did!
  2. No one prayed directly to the Father, asking Him to tell Jesus, “Thank you for being my sin sacrifice” or words to that effect. Personal thanks, is never directed to Jesus in prayer.
  3. After Acts 2, no one prays directly to Jesus himself to thank him.
  4. No congregation had an “opening prayer” to begin worship, nor a “closing prayer” to end it.
  5. Neither “an invitation song” following a “gospel invitation” if found.
  6. Other than Peter’s statement, “Save yourself from this untoward generation” and “he commanded them to be baptized” (Acts 2:40; 10:48), Philip’s statement, “If you believe with all your heart, you may,” and Ananias’ statement to Paul, “Why tarriest thou, arise and be baptized to wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16), there is no dialogue used to speak over the one being immersed.
  7. The first day of the week contribution of 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 was not said to be for purchasing property or building a meeting place.
  8. There is no evidence of a congregation building an indoor baptistry and baptizing folks during their worship assembly.
  9. There is no evidence that the first century church owned a building, built an indoor baptistry, used it during a worship service, or applauded after the individual was immersed. Some accept the first three but reject the fourth!
  10. There is no evidence of the expression “five acts of worship” being used to describe a congregation’s first day of the week activities or its items described as “worship.”
  11. The expression “song leader” is not used in scripture, nor his leading of what is described as “congregational singing.”
  12. There is no mention of a “song leader” moving his arm to keep time to the song being led.
  13. There is no mention of men singing tenor and bass and women singing soprano and alto. Those parts were not introduced for another thousand years or so.
  14. Although “psalms” are in the Old Testament, inspired hymns and spiritual songs aren’t found in the New Testament. The hymns and songs we sing are not inspired and they have originated from Catholic, Protestants, and later uninspired song writers.
  15. There is no mention of women, in a 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 assembly, leading the soprano and alto parts in a song while the men, with their tenor and bass parts being silent, allowing the women to lead the congregation in speaking and/or teaching that part of the song.
  16. There is no mention of a specific dialogue being demanded or used to say over a candidate prior to that person’s baptism. We are commanded in what to do, but not what to say.
  17. There is no mention of a congregation creating a rule which requires the membership to enter that assembly in silence to show respect for God before worship “officially” begins. Neither is there any evidence that “the house of God” describes the assembly room where saints meet.
  18. There is no passage requiring men who “wait” on the Lord’s table to be wearing suits and ties to show their respect to God.
  19. There is no passage authorizing an assembly to substitute “a cracker” or “small wafer” for the “loaf” in the Lord’s supper.
  20. There is no evidence that certain male members were selected to serve the communion to a first day of the week assembly.
  21. There is no mention of anyone passing a collection plate to the audience to take up the first day of the week collection.
  22. There is no example of a congregation substituting another way of taking up the collection for the one mentioned in scripture.
  23. There is no mention of anyone setting up a table, carving the words of Luke 22:19 on it and referring to it as “the Lord’s table” which we “figuratively” gather around by “literally” sitting in pews to partake.
  24. There is no mention of any first century assembly substituting “a holy hand shake” for “a holy kiss.”
  25. There is no mention of a congregation’s culture giving saints the liberty to change a command from an action that is written to an action that is never mentioned by the Holy Spirit.
  26. There is no passage which instructs a congregation to take money from the first day of the week contribution and buy the fruit of the vine or the unleavened bread.
  27. The gathering place for the assembly is never referred to as an “auditorium” nor as a “sanctuary.”

28. The collection for the first day of the week contribution in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 does not include local needs, nor categories such as edification or evangelism.

  1. There is nothing in the New Testament which suggests that preachers are to wear special clothing when they preach, such as a special frock or suit and tie.
  2. There are no special titles given to identify a preacher, such as Pastor, Reverend, Minister, Preacher, Father, or the Right Reverend Jones, Smith, Brown, White, etc. Paul was never referred to by using the title, “Preacher Paul.”
  3. There is no passage which describes preaching, singing, giving, communion, or praying as “worship.”
  4. There is no scripture of a woman standing up, while all men in the audience are seated, except the preacher, and her teaching the congregation by making an oral statement in their hearing called “the good confession.”

Some believe some of these items demand that the silence of the scriptures prohibits the practice.  They believe the slogans or creeds, “Silence is prohibitive” and “Be silent where the Bible is silent” enforces that silence.

There are others who believe such words as “inference,” “expedience,” and “common sense” justifies those practices or phrases though absent from scripture.  Each time a new phrase or practice is introduced, objections are made, discussions appear, and division usually follows.  Both parties lay claim to the same spiritual source – the Bible.

What is interesting is that Jesus and the apostles accepted some traditional practices which were handed down by men rather than being commanded by God.  He also condemned other man made ones (Matthew 15:9).  Yet, the man made traditions observed by Jesus and the apostles were not considered adding nor subtracting from God’s word.  Are we guilty of missing something?

DRIVING THE NAIL HOME!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So, the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” John 20:24-25 (NIV)

We call him “doubting Thomas.”  Why?  Don’t we tell people, “Don’t accept something as truth unless you can read it in the Bible”?  Thomas was asking for evidence, not claims.  People claim everything.  Claims without facts may not be truth.

A renown balancing artist asked a crowd if they thought he could walk on a cable stretched across the Niagara Falls.  They roared their approval.  He asked if they thought he could do the same feat with someone sitting on his shoulders.  Again, they roared their approval.  He asked for one person from that approving audience to volunteer to ride on his shoulders.  The crowd went silent!  No one stepped forward.  They had faith in him until he wanted one of them to demonstrate that faith!

Thomas heard claims, but he wanted to view the evidence.  Talk can be cheap.  The difference between Thomas and us is a wide chasm in our favor.  He had not seen the risen Jesus.  He had not experienced the sight nor voice of Jesus.  Maybe the other apostles were drowning in their sorrow, causing them to be delusional?  He wanted evidence.  The other apostles had experienced that evidence.  He had not.  Our advantage is that we have the whole story in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and Paul later writes to corroborate that evidence.  Thomas did not enjoy our advantage nor theirs!  Thomas is not the doubter, we are!

Jesus said, “Don’t worry about food, drink, and clothes . . . don’t worry about having enough food and clothing. . . . don’t be anxious about tomorrowMatthew 6:25, 31, 34.   We counter with, “I’m not worried, I’m just concerned.”  Same thing!  It’s our excuse for failing to place our trust correctly.  We still fall back on mother Eve’s reasoning.  If it sounds good, others swallow it, then we come out smelling like a rose rather than the garbage!  But, we aren’t like doubting Thomas!  Really?

PERFECTION = ASSURANCE??

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Is one saved through his own righteousness?  No (Titus 3:5)!  Some believe their works of obedience counts as partial payment, but no one seems to know the exact amount!  Without that number in hand, one travels through life void of assurance.  Do we supply “Partial payment” for our sins?  No!  Jesus paid it all (2 Corinthians 5:15)!  He is not a percentage Savior.

If Jesus was a percentage Savior, wouldn’t inspiration be more exact on what “be faithful” includes (Revelation 2:10)?  Is that “faithfulness” documented as perfect attendance every Sunday, even if I’m sick?  If I am, must I have an excuse, signed by a doctor that I am too sick to attend, and this condition gives me a scriptural exemption?  Would there be a “rider” on that divine information telling us that after Sunday School was implemented in the 17th century, one’s attendance must be one hundred percent unless he possesses that same medical document?  Just because Ephesians 2:10 is quoted, does it detail what the “good works, which God . . . ordained,” is?  Once we dry off after baptism, how soon are we responsible in accomplishing a perfect faith?  Is there instruction giving us a time limit on reaching and maintaining it?  If we must use “common sense” to determine the implied details, whose common sense must be followed?  Do the perfect ones’ discipline those who are shy of that goal?  If so, what are the credentials of those who are perfect?

Even when the word “faithful” is used to describe the condition of a congregation, it is often misapplied.  What does that term mean?  How would your definition apply to Corinth (1 Corinthians), Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6), Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-19), or Jerusalem!  Was Jerusalem faithful even though it refused to preach the good news to uncircumcised Gentiles for ten years?  Ask someone if they know of a “faithful” congregation in an area and you will receive that person’s definition, which may satisfy you, but not be scriptural!  Are there any unknowns that exist but you didn’t ask about?  How much assurance is there in an imperfect understanding?  How perfect must that congregation be, to be biblically faithful?

Who was more faithful?  Members in Jerusalem, or those in Sardis?  Those in Corinth, or those in Laodicea?  Was it possible to be a member of what you consider to be the worse one, yet still be faithful in God’s sight?

If one was a member of the Jerusalem assembly four years prior to the events of Acts 10, would that person lose his soul if he died?  Were those who died at Jerusalem, Corinth, Sardis, or Laodicea, lost because they were not in a faithful congregation?  The Jewish church continued to be “zealous for the law” (Acts 21:18-26).  Gentile churches were exempt from that zeal (Acts 15:1ff).  Which division was faithful?  Which one was lost?

If my salvation depended upon my perfection and the perfection of the congregation I’m in, what assurance do I have that I’m saved?  Who is perfect?  Who is in a congregation with perfect elders, deacons, evangelists, and members?  If perfection is our standard, we are guilty of falling for a charade implemented by Satan to believe if it looks good, and tastes good, then it will make us wise if we will accept it as God’s pattern!

When one surrenders to Jesus and is buried and raised with him, he dies to sin (Romans 6).  All his sins are pardoned.  The body of sin has been destroyed!  Jesus’ blood keeps us cleansed despite the sins we commit after immersion (1 John 1:7-10).  We need to realize that we cannot reach and maintain perfection.  Jerusalem didn’t start off perfect, nor did they reach or maintain it.  None do.  When Jesus took our sins upon himself, he bestowed upon us his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).  That is why “in” Christ Jesus there is “no condemnation” (Romans 8:1).  That’s why the apostle Paul could say with assurance,

So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I’m in! Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature?  Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me freeSo now there is no condemnation awaiting those who belong to Christ Jesus(Romans 7:24-8:1 TLB).

Have you experienced that freedom?

THEN and NOW!

Monday, March 26, 2018

MARCH 18, 62 A.D.

It is the morning of the day of the Sun.  A work day.  I’m up at 3:30 a.m. to go to the underground burial place where the stench takes your breath away and vomiting is a weekly expectation.  It is the only safe place where we can meet without fear of being discovered.   We walk into the area in small groups of one to three.   We leave our work clothes hidden a safe distance away to change into once our assembly is over.  We can’t afford to carry the smell of death with us to work.  Questions would be asked.  Investigations would be made.  Live’s would be endangered.

When we arrive, we greet one another with a kiss of holiness.  We encourage one another in the blessed name of Jesus.  Those who aren’t slaves bring loaves and wine for the Lord’s memorial.  We share.  Each is asked to quote a scripture from the first covenant, or from an apostle’s writings which they have committed to memory.  If a prophet is present, he gives us his Spirit inspired teaching.   We discuss his instruction and comment on each passage that has been quoted.  Prayer is offered.  If someone has a need, those who have, give to that need.  We are encouraged by God’s word and our fellowship.  We sing one or two of the Psalms, but quietly.  Our voices might carry on the morning dew where they would not be appreciated, and we would be arrested for following the Nazarene.  Each person talks about his activities since the last gathering.  Those with harsh masters are encouraged to follow the instruction of the apostles.  We pray with them as we lay hands upon one another.  Prayer is also made for the sick and those who have been arrested for their faith.  Funds are also given by those who can donate to help the families whose breadwinner has been imprisoned for his faith.  The time together seems so short and the moment arrives to dismiss.  To keep down suspicion, we go to different parts of the river in small groups to wash away the stench of decomposing bodies.  We retrieve our hidden work garments and hide those we have worn to our assembly.  We will pick them up at the end of the day and wash them.

At 5 a.m. I am at work getting things ready for my master and family when they wake up.  This Lord’s day has started off in a great way!  I’m not throwing up as much as I did when I attended my first assembly.  Our fellowship together makes the smell of the catacombs secondary.  Our fellowship is exhilarating!  I wonder what the assemblies will be like one thousand, nine hundred and fifty-six years from now?

NOW

Almost every Sunday, it is the same old same old.  Getting everyone out of bed, get them dressed, get them to comb their hair, finish eating, brush their teeth, everyone in the car, and drive that fifteen minutes to the church building is murder!  At least no one forgot their Bible nor got an unmatched shoe on today.  The struggle with the kids isn’t as bad today as it was last week!  I just hope we can find a good parking spot, so we don’t need to walk from the backside of the church lot!   You would think we would not be the only ones who attend the worship service and miss Sunday School!  At least we will be early enough that no one will sweetly persecute us with that, “You’re late again!”  Oh, no!  I’m going to have to tell those visitors that they are sitting in “our seats.”  They will just have to move.  We’ve sat on that pew since before our children were born.  Well, you would have thought we asked them to move off a gold mine.  I wish that elder didn’t get up every Sunday to start things off by telling how friendly we are!  Everyone knows that!   Despite those visitors being reluctant to move, I was very cordial in asking them to do so!

Well, the preacher almost had a good sermon today.  I wish he would preach the Bible.  He only quoted eight verses.  I can remember when preachers would quote one hundred or more.  Of course, they spoke for over an hour and the Baptists always arrived at our favorite restaurant fifteen minutes ahead of us.  If he is only going to quote eight verses, it looks like he would not keep repeating himself when giving the invitation!  Neither Paul, Silas, Barnabas, nor Timothy gave a long invitation!  Everyone present already knows, “Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit, and be Faithful.”  After all, someone in the Bible gave that invitation, but just once, not on and on and on.  If we’re going to claim to preach the Bible, we ought to do so rather than repeat stuff.

I’ll bet those visitors that we asked politely to move out of our seats were really impressed with the scriptural way we do things.  I’m sure they will want to place membership with us since we are a very friendly congregation.  I wonder if the church, in the first century had as tough of a time worshiping God in spirit and in truth as we do?  The sacrifices we make and the hoops we must jump through to be biblically right is astronomical!

THE HISTORY OF RULE INTRODUCTION

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Are there times when a belief is the results of a tradition that started several hundred years ago?   The answer is “Yes.”  Jesus dealt with it during his ministry.  He even told his audience, “They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Matthew 15:9 NIV).  How does a rule “taught by men” develop into one that is readily accepted as a rule taught by God? Several may be related, but to keep this as brief as possible, I’ll only introduce the following.

In the Hebrew scriptures the consonants were written but not the vowels.  The name of God was Yahweh but appeared as YHWH without its vowels.  The individual supplied the vowels while reading.  Try that with English to see its difficulty!  He also produced the pronunciation.  That makes it even more difficult.  Then put all the consonants together with a break and try your skills!  Around the sixth century BC, the Jews developed the idea that God’s name was too holy to pronounce.  Each time the reader came to YHWH, the Hebrew word (Adonia) or “Lord” was substituted.  The King James translation of 1611 was apparently influenced by this practice.  The word YHWH is found 6,519 times in the Hebrew text.  Yet the KJV translation committee rendered it as Jehovah (English for Yahweh), only four times (Exodus 6:3; Psalm 82:18; Isaiah 12:2 and 26:4).  6,510 times that committee changed God’s word by substituting the Hebrew word “LORD” (Adonia) for Yahweh.  Four times they substituted with the word “God.”  Since the KJV became the most read English translation for four hundred years, this substitution fortified the Jewish human concept.  This produced the understanding that Yahweh or Jehovah was not to be pronounced, but a substitution must be used instead!

Some, in the last three centuries also accepted the Jewish belief as a command from God.  Among that group were those who believed if it was pronounced, the person would be committing the unpardonable sin!  If that was true, then the King James translation committee put the reader at risk by translating YHWH as “Jehovah” four times!   The message of safety would be, “In reading from the King James Version, stay away from Exodus 6, Psalm 82, and Isaiah 12 and 26!  Reader, God gave no such instruction.

Some believe God was responsible for the development of that sixth century BC Jewish thinking.  There isn’t any direct evidence of such a demand.  Again, if it was a “God thing,” the KJV committee didn’t get the message in those four passages!  That would infer that God slipped up four times in stopping what was forbidden!  However, God used a humanly devised idea, though warped, and allowed it to develop to bring glory to Himself.  This is seen in the following passage.

Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11 NIV, Emphasis mine, RH).

The name “Jesus” carries the idea of “Jehovah” or “Yahweh saves.”  Matthew writes, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21 NIV, Emphasis mine, RH).

Look at the history behind this idea that “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” is too holy to pronounce.  The idea began in the 6th century before Christ.  The King James assisted this man-made belief through its substitution of “Lord” and “God” in the place of “Yahweh.”  That added up to about 2,200 years of a Jewish misunderstanding affecting the beliefs of Bible readers!  Add another 400 years since the introduction of the KJV, and you can understand this “unpardonable sin” syndrome.  The changing from “Yahweh” to “LORD” by the KJV also influenced most newer English translations!  The misconception developed into an avalanche!  Years of misunderstanding created a teaching that was thought to be from God, when its original origin was from man!

How many other innocent “rules” of men have developed into a “law of God” by following that type of thinking?  You might be surprised!

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